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Sitcom Theme Music: One Day at a Time

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on March 25, 2011


Although it may now be hard to fathom, there once was a time when the very idea of a sitcom about a divorced individual was considered not only revolutionary but also potentially immoral. It’s like finding out ABC almost never aired Welcome Back, Kotter because the network feared it would inspire gang violence. Or that The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was almost shelved because it might have been mistaken as an endorsement for necrophilia.

But back in the early 1970’s divorce was still very much a hot-button topic, like nuclear war, feminism and Evel Knievel’s so-called jump over Snake Canyon. In fact, the character of Mary Richards in Mary Tyler Moore was initially conceived as a recent divorcée but producers–fearing a backlash from religious coalitions and anyone who has ever mistaken a baptism for a bullhorn–opted for a “broken engagement” backstory instead (no doubt after weighing such typical late 60’s/early 70’s sitcom alternatives as “moved to Minneapolis after losing her magical powers,” “moved to Minneapolis after her spaceship crashed in southeatern Minnesota” and “moved to Minneapolis after discussing it with her horse, car or enchanted flute”). The overriding idea was never to make television viewers too sad, too irate or too mobilized to notice the commercials…or perhaps confuse them into thinking Mary had just dumped Rob Petrie’s ass.

By the mid-70’s, however, the network honchos believed that viewers were ready to see sitcoms that didn’t so much make them forget their worries as wallow in their miseries. This was the heyday of the “social commentary” sitcom, otherwise known as the “Wait, am I suppose to laugh after hearing Florida’s husband just got killed?” formula. Gone were such time-tested plots as “hillbillies get rich,” “hillbillies swim naked in water tower” and “hillbillies meet Eva Gabor.” In their place were “comedies” about racism, suicide, drug abuse and, in the case of One Day at a Time, marriage gone down the crapper.

Starring Bonnie Franklin, One Day at a Time followed the few triumphs and many travails of recently divorced Ann Romano née Cooper and her two daughters Julia (Mackenzie Phillips) and Barbara (Valerie Bertanelli)–siblings who could only have been related by way of casting–as they laughed, loved and languished in Indianapolis. This was often accompished with the assistance of Dwayne “Florenz” Schneider (Pat Harrington Jr.), the superintendent whose fanatic attachment to the Romano clan was just one plot twist away from him donning a short red wig and disposing of Ann in the apartment building’s furnace.

The overall tone of the show is best summed up by its bouncy theme song, penned by Jeff Barry of “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Be My Baby” and “Christmas (Please Come Home)” fame. Taking its cue from the show’s subject matter, the lyrics are empowering but never too encouraging, commencing on a note of both resilience and resignation:

This is it. This is it.
This is life, the one you get
So go and have a ball.

Or, to put it another way:

Suck it up. Suck it up.
Wipe those tears, you’re on your own
So maybe buy a cat.

The song then ups the ante in the second verse as it segues from a proclamation of “keep your chin up” to “never let your guard down”:

This is it. This is it
Straight ahead and rest assured
You can’t be sure at all.

Or:

You might be walking down the street
Minding your own business
When suddenly BAM! Falling jet turbine.

What’s most striking about the theme song in the first two verses is the notion of “This is it.” On the one hand it strikes a rather final, almost futile chord, one seemingly at odds with a show about second chances. It’s like hearing a disapproving parent say “You made your bed now lie in it” or “Fingers don’t grow back, now do they?” But on the other hand “This is it” can serve as a wake-up call, a realization of life’s transitory nature and the need both to make the most of what it has to offer and make a stand in the face of adveristy. It’s another way of saying, “If life gives me lemons then I’ll make hard lemonade” or “I’ve got two fists for fighting and one finger for the world.”

However, not wanting to turn into the equivalent of “I Am Woman (So Hear Me Alternately Roar and Sob Copiuosly into My Macramé Pillow), the lyrics take a turn for the decidedly hopeful and heartening in the third verse:

So while you’re here enjoy the view
Keep on doing what you do
So hold on tight we’ll muddle through
One day at a time, One day at a time.

These were invigorating–if not downright imperative–words for a generation still reeling from such calamaties as Watergate, Vietnam, stagflation, the OPEC oil crisis, Children of God and prog rock. Yes, we as a nation had been through some tough times. And we as a nation could only expect to face further woes (read: 1980’s). But as long as we had the strength of Bonnie Franklin’s character (a trait that came in good stead after her divorce, after her boyfriend was killed in a car crash, after she had to raise her boyfriend’s son alone, after her eldest daughter abandoned her own family and–in a very special holiday episode–after she was knifed by St. Nick), the spunkiness of Valerie Berinelli’s character and the countless kilos of pure Bolivian snow that made Mackenzie Phillips such a character, we’d be able to get through any plot device. And so in celebration of that very realization, the song concludes on a note of optimism and a nod to “The Hustle”:

So up on your feet. Up on your feet
Somewhere there’s music playing.
Don’t you worry none
We’ll just take it like it comes.
One day at a time, One day at a time (Repeat)

So remember, whenever you find yourself feeling particularly despondent, whenever you feel as if life’s demands are proving far too overwhelming, whenever you feel as if the only way out of your problems is through inhaling carbon monoxide, injesting sleeping pills or inquring about that job in marketing, have no fear. Just remember that “this is it,” “have a ball” and “buy a cat.”

Other Links:
Notes from Ann Coulter’s Book Editor
Your War Time “Free Sandwich” Punch Card
Excerpts from “I Could Pee on This” and Other Poems by Cats
My Upcoming Coffee Table Books
The Original Cats Quote Charlie Sheen
What My Possessions Think of Me

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13 Responses

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  1. non du jour said, on March 25, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Once again, Ces has depressed me to the edge of . . .whatever.

    I was muddling through it one day at a time (sans cat, my wife is allergic) and this blast from youtubia came along and sent me to the company storeroom in tears.

    Why?

    Not why you would think, I am willing to wager.

    I hadn’t sat through that themed opening since high school when I was wasting time not doing my homework (I now waste time at work giving credence to Malcom Gladwell’s contention that it takes 10,000 hours to really get good at something, but I digress).

    Back then I had a crush on Valarie and lusted after the bad girl McKensie and thought there mom was a mom. Now, seeing it today, I see mom as a young MILF, too young for me.

    Sigh

    I am old

    And life has passed me by

    One day at a time

  2. Paul1963 said, on March 25, 2011 at 11:16 am

    I’m sure I’ve read, in more than one place, that one of the biggest reasons CBS didn’t want Mary Tyler Moore to play a divorcee was that they were afraid viewers would think she was divorced from Dick Van Dyke.

    As for “One Day at a Time,” the thing I keep shaking my head in amazement about was the fact that Valerie Bertinelli grew up to be so hot. I never would have expected the VB of 1975 to turn out like the VB of 1982–or, for that matter, of 2011. Rowr.

  3. monicastangledweb said, on March 25, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Excellent post, great insight. This is my era and I remember this show very well. I also remember what a milestone it was to have a show featuring a divorced woman. Oh, and about the popularity of hillbilly shows, what was up with that? Btw, your line about hillbillies meet Eva Gabor is hysterical and spot on.

    I love your analysis of the theme song. Hope you continue to analyze more theme songs of yesteryear. They seem to be vanishing from today’s television landscape in order to make room for more commercials.

  4. Paul Jones said, on March 25, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Oh, good grief; I’d almost forgotten this one. About all I remember besides having Schneider tell us that the only reason he had a pack of Luckys rolled into his sleeve was that it made him look cool was how Ann’s boss always turned Ms into an initialism: “Em Ess Romano.”

  5. Six said, on March 25, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    After watching that flopping abomination, I think one of the verses should have been:

    This is it. This is the other one.
    These are boobs, the ones you get
    So go and BUY A BRA.

  6. Stephen said, on March 25, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Can’t wait til you wax poetic on the horrid ‘shark-jump’ turns of other 70’s comedy hits…most notably the rape of Edith Bunker.

    What the hell WERE they thinking??

  7. Apostate said, on March 25, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    Suddenly,I feel like ingesting anti-depressants by the dozen….

  8. Paul Jones said, on March 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Let’s not forget the grand-daddy of all shark-jumpage: the downer ending of the Mary Tyler Moore show. Talk about depressing; the new owners fired everyone with a brain and kept TED!!!

  9. Brent said, on March 25, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Once you got past the whole “Bonnie Franklin is playing a divorced woman” thing, the other huge thing about “One Day At A Time” is that Anne Romano was having sex outside of marriage. And it wasn’t like Mary Richards on “Mary Tyler Moore” where there’s a momentary mention once (in the entire run of the series) that she takes The Pill, or that there was one night (in the entire run of the series) where she doesn’t come home all night. No, Anne got laid. Several times during the series as a matter of fact. And there was never any doubt about it. You’d see her leading the guy into the bedroom, and later in the series you saw her in bed with at least one guy. In the grand scheme of things, this was HUGE. Even Gloria Bunker or Maude’s daughter didn’t have extra-marital sex that obviously.

  10. Woodrowfan said, on March 25, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    still waiting for Barney Miller!

  11. RockyCat said, on March 25, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    I like your lyrics better. Especially the part about the jet turbine.

  12. DrBear said, on March 25, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    I always thought it started “This is it/this is life, go on, you guessed, so go and have a ball.”

    My divorced mom loved this show.

  13. Dono said, on March 30, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Point of clarification: Barbara and Julie’s father was Ed Cooper, so Ann Romano was not “nee Cooper” at all. She resumed using her maiden name, Romano, after the divorce.


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